Former government ethics chief Walter Shaub warned the White House and President Donald Trump’s family that they were coming alarmingly close to ethics violations by profiting off of their brand while in working in the executive branch. Still, Ivanka Trump continues to sell clothing she wears to political events.
A Wall Street Journal investigation revealed this week that Ivanka’s social media feed is filled with her own retail clothes. Each time she appears in public at an event, she’s clad in her own sellable clothes. Shortly there after, the clothing often sells out.
Shaub told CNN that Ivanka is perfectly free to wear whatever she wants, but “we’re in this situation because she is one of the rare government appointees in the White House who has not divested her financial interests.” According to Shaub, that puts her at a higher burden on her to be more conscious of what she does.
“I don’t think anybody is saying she’s doing anything wrong in this case,” said CNN Money correspondent Cristina Alesci. “What troubles people like Walter and people who protect the ethics of government, really is the fact that she goes up to a line and she doesn’t quite cross the line but just explores the line and where it exists.”
The line, according to Alesci, is where a government official uses his or her position to personally profit. In this case she isn’t directly asking that people buy her products, but instead she’s serving as a kind of “walking billboard.” CNN host Alisyn Camerota noted that Ivanka’s company got in trouble when it tweeted from her account, “Shop Ivanka’s look from the RNC.”
Alesci explained that this kind of marketing she grew up with watching her father utilize. “She knows what she wears will be covered,” she said.
In a statement, Trump said that if she wanted to grow her business and make money that she would have stayed in New York, but Shaub called the statement “laughable.” Camerota noted that Ivanka wouldn’t have had the platform she does unless she went to the White House.
“The reality is that the core principle of the ethics program is that you’re not supposed to misuse your government position for private gain,” he continued. “This is the international definition of corruption. This is the principle that George H.W. Bush founded as the cornerstone of the ethics program.”
Shaub went on to note that Ivanka could have chosen to divest her financial interests.
“But choosing not to do any of those things, she is held to a higher standard,” he said. “She’s one of the top presidential advisers and the daughter of the president in that role, because the Department of Jusice threw away almost half a century of precedent that nepotism is not allowed in the White House.”
He also explained that the trust that the president set up was meaningless. A trust, according to Shaub, is nothing more than a legal instrument conveying ownership temporarily.
“So, it’s still on your behalf,” he said. “All the profits are still coming to you. It’s window dressing, at best.”
Camerota asked if the move was the “Kardashianing of the White House” and Alesci noted that is what has people feeling uneasy about these issues. She went on to say that as long as the Trump’s continue to own everything, whether it’s in a trust or not, they’ll open themselves up to such questions.
Shaub said that it’s a similar story to the way in which Trump is making money off of doubling the price of initiation to Mar-a-Lago.
“None of these things are happening in a vacuum,” he said. “What we’re seeing across the board is an effort to monetize the presidency. No, it’s not OK. He shouldn’t have kept those assets in the first place. And the only reason people are paying higher membership fees or higher fees for the New Year’s Eve party, or above-market rates to stay in his hotel in Washington, is they want to purchase access to the president. And access to the president shouldn’t be for sale to the wealthy people who can pay the price.”
Watch the full conversation below: